Riley: Boy name or girl name?

Is Riley a boy name or a girl name these days? Or is it officially something in between? (And does the country you live in affect your perspective?)

Let’s start with some background. The name baby name Riley has at least two known origins:

In some cases a transferred use of the English surname, a local name from a place named with Old English ryge ‘rye’ + leah ‘wood, clearing’. There is one such place in Devon and another in Lancashire. In other cases it probably represents a respelling of the Irish surname Reilly, which is from an old Irish personal name, Raghallach, of unknown origin.

In the U.S. it was given to baby boys regularly and almost exclusively from the late 1800s until the 1970s. After that, usage began picking up for girls.

The name became very trendy for both genders starting in the 1990s — so trendy that thousands of baby boys and thousands of baby girls were being named Riley annually by the turn of the century.

The “gender switch” happened not long after, right around 2003:

  • 2005: 5,121 girls and 4,110 boys named Riley
  • 2004: 4,981 girls and 4,109 boys named Riley
  • 2003: 4,242 girls and 4,075 boys named Riley
  • 2002: 3,904 girls and 3,958 boys named Riley
  • 2001: 3,044 girls and 3,650 boys named Riley

Usage peaked for both genders a few years later and the name has been in decline since. In 2012, Riley was given to 4,786 baby girls (ranked 47th) and 2861 baby boys (ranked 133rd).

The name is also popular in other English-speaking areas, but decidedly male in most (all?) of those places (e.g., ranked 15th for boys in Scotland, 19th in Western Australia, 30th in New Zealand).

What are your thoughts on Riley? And, for the record, where are you from?

Source: Hanks, Patrick, Kate Hardcastle and Flavia Hodges. A Dictionary of First Names. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006.

9 thoughts on “Riley: Boy name or girl name?

  1. It’s definitely far more common for boys in Australia, but it’s not that weird to have a little girl named Riley or Reilley (it’s not like having a daughter named Erik). So I would say unisex, but strongly weighted towards male by usage.

  2. Riley reminds me of Cthulhu R’lyeh … something that is not from the world as we know it …

  3. This name feels absolutely unisex to me, like Taylor…I wouldn’t try to guess boy or girl before meeting the kid, and I’m in the Midwest close to the great lakes.

  4. I am from The Netherlands and the name isn’t really in use here (unlike many other English/American names), but to me it definitely sounds like a girls’ name.

  5. I’m from the American Midwest and I’d say Riley is male although it’s heading for unisex. However, the “modern” respellings…Ryleigh, Rylee, Rylie, Rilee… seem to be strictly female.

    The few times I have heard Reilly, it has been a male name only.

  6. For girls I’d spell it Ryleigh, or something tacky like that. I do know a boy named Rylee, but that spelling is more unisex I suppose.

  7. Well I’m mean my friends friend is named Rylee and she’s a girl but my brothers name is Riley so I dunno it can be both

  8. I am a girl and I am called Riley myself, so I would say it is a girls name.
    I am from the netherlands by the way.

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